Friday, July 01, 2005

It's All About Him: Hebrews -- Lesson 38

To start at the beginning of this series, click here.

The Substance that is Faith

The Writer ends chapter 10 with these words "But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul. (Hebrews 10:39, NASB 95)" And it is this closing thought in chapter 10 that we must see as the reason why the well read chapter 11 treatise on faith exists. But how often, have you actually seen this flow put together?

But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul. Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men of old gained approval. (Hebrews 10:39-11:2)

Who can read these thoughts and not sense that the faith we bandy about in modern western civilization is watered down. We do not expect much from our faith. We tend to mark the day of our salvation by when we prayed a simple "prayer of faith." The Writer of Hebrews marks salvation by having a faith that:

  • Will not shrink back when the Christian life has a cost.
  • Will preserve the soul.
  • Provides assurance of salvation.
  • Is proof within the heart that God exists and that He loves us.
  • Will be the driving force behind actions that gain God's approval

This is a much richer and fuller view of faith and is consistent with Paul's view:

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10)

Our salvation does not come by works, but by faith. And the Writer of Hebrews says the same, "we have faith to the preserving of our souls." But Paul and the Writer of Hebrews have works that flow from faith--and this is vitally important.

It is so important that a significant percentage of Hebrews is devoted to examples of faith in the lives of the "men of old." Faith in God has always the basis by which we have gained God's approval. Even in the Old Covenant times and before, this has been the way of things. The key distinctive of the New Covenant is not salvation by faith, but free and open access to the Father in heaven.

And so we will begin to look at these faithful lives with the hope that through them and the Holy Spirit, abundant faith will arise in our hearts and we will become strong and able disciples of our Lord.

Test everything. Cling to what is good.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

It's All About Him: Hebrews -- Lesson 37

To start at the beginning of this series, click here.

Christianity with an Attitude

What follows next is a proof text that there is a permanent salvation available to us and that we can be assured of our faith and eternal life with God. What is interesting is that a quick read does not reveal this. Indeed, a quick read would almost lead one to see the opposite.

But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one.

Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.

For yet in a very little while, He who is coming will come, and will not delay. But My righteous one shall live by faith; And if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him.
But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul. (Hebrews 10:32-39, NASB 95)

There is a cost to being a Christian. Jesus told us, "Â?If the world hates you,youu know that it has hated Me before it hated you. Â?If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. (John 15:18-19)" The Writer commends his readers for their endurance and attitude in the face of great conflict against their enemies.

There is greawisdomdm to be gleaned by seeing the force of this, "You accepted joyfully the seizure of your property." The key word here is "joyfully." To be a Christian and have authorities come and take your home and possessions because you are a Christian is not to be met with resignation or patience or trust in the "permissive will of God." It is to be met with song and praise! I can remember reading this years ago and seeing the word "joyfully" for the first time and botmarveleded at the faith of the early saints and despaired for my own lack of faith. I had always felt that with the Holy Spirit, I could face a martyr's death--but that is a ticket to the presence of God and one does not have to wake up day after day with the repercussions of homelessness and struggle for livelihood. No. I saw in these verses a deficiency in my soul that needed to be made right--and I prayed for the change and sought the Holy Spirit for it. One never knows for sure how one might react to any circumstance, but I trust that if such events come my way my prayers will result in song and praise.

The other key, of course, is to recognize the intrinsic value of our future and live for the future reality and not the current shadow.

As a matter of principle, our faith will be put to the test. The Writer of Hebrews tells us that we have need of endurance and that shrinking back in the face of a test is never a good thing. This is a shrinking back from faith and trust in God. It is a shrinking back that prefers a roof over one's head over claiming Jesus to be my savior. It has absolutely nothing to do with sinning or not sinning. It also has nothing to do with a perfect string of successes--as Peter demonstrated when he denied even knowing Jesus on the night of the betrayal. But it has everything to do with the faith that God grants us and the faith that motivates anstrengthensns us and gives us perspective on life.

The just shall live by faith and not by will power and stamina. Faith in God and the work that He does in our life and the joy that we have in His presence--that is oustrengthth and endurance. The New Testament is clear that the trials that come our way will show our faith and strengthen it:

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4)

In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; (1 Peter 1:6-7)

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, "For Your sake we are being put to death all day long; We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered." But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39)

Note the words "joy" and "rejoice" again. When our faith is assaulted, it grows. That is what we must remember. Our work is to seek and enjoy the presence of God and the filling of the Holy Spirit to empower us to live holy lives and to proclaim the Kingdom of God.

To be sure, the Writer of Hebrews speaks of "shrinking back." I have seen friends and family face a trial and shrink back, and some have never recovered their faith. Should I fear that a test is in my future by which I will shrink back to "destruction?" I do not think so. The Writer says of himself and his hearers, "But we are not of those who shrink back..." This is a statement of fact. The Writer can look in his heart and know that he belongs to God, that he has been cleansed by the blood of Jesus offered in the Holy Place. The Writer knows that he has "faith to the preserving of his soul."

The application for us is two-fold. First, it behooves us to make sure that we have such faith. Second, we must structure our message so that we bring people to such faith. Prospective Christians must know that their faith will be tested, that persecution will come their way, and that they must yield to God and be filled with the Holy Spirit so that they learn to endure. It is by testing that we come to know the genuineness of our faith.

It is a thing of joy.

Test everything. Cling to what is good.

Monday, June 27, 2005

It's All About Him: Hebrews -- Lesson 36

To start at the beginning of this series, click here.

Sinning Willfully

Hebrews is full of statements that many interpret as proof that salvation is a blessing that can be lost. Here is one them:

For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay." And again, "The Lord will judge His people." It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:26-31, NASB95)

I dealt with this topic at length in this series and you can read that section by clicking here. Hebrews does challenge us to ensure that we are men and women of faith, but it also reveals that we can know that we have faith to the "preserving of our souls. (Hebrews 10:35)" So we must understand what the Writer is saying here in the context of the entire book and, indeed, this very section.

The key is that having a "knowledge of the truth" is not the same as the "great salvation" that Jesus has provided for us by His blood. The glory of the New Covenant over the Old is the gift of the cleansing of consciences from dead works, the ability to approach the throne of grace in time of need, the Law written on our hearts, the Holy Spirit dwelling within us. These are the realities of the New Covenant. To have a knowledge of these truths and then to say in your heart, "I want to keep my sinful ways" is the height of folly. The New Covenant is the solution to sin.

Another key is to remind ourselves of the Writer's audience, which is his Jewish brethren. He fears for them. They are receiving the knowledge of the truth of Jesus their Messiah, and they are rejecting the message. There is no more reliance on the Old Covenant sacrifices possible. The new has come and the old is obsolete. There is a path, by faith, to enter the Holy Place in heaven today. To reject that gift is to find oneself, at death at the same place without the covering of Jesus' blood before the terrifying God of Mt. Sinai (Pentecost #1) instead of the indwelling and close God of Pentecost #2.

This is an appeal to the Writer's Jewish brethren to change their hearts and enter into the bounty of the New Covenant. If it was bad to break the Old, how much worse will it be to spurn the offer of the new.

I will continue this topic in the next installment.

Test everything. Cling to what is good.